•INEC promises free, fair election
•Police deploy 31,000 personnel, vow to deal with lawbreakers
•Obaseki: God, let me lose if my re-election bid will cost the blood of anybody
Adibe Emenyonu and Chuks Okocha in Benin, Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
After weeks of acrimonious campaigns, the people of Edo State will this morning troop out, amid tension, to elect a governor that will manage the state in the next four years.
Fourteen political parties are fielding candidates for the election, but the contest will be a straight fight between incumbent Governor Godwin Obaseki of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Osagie Ize-Iyamu of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
For most of yesterday, tension remained very high across the state, with voters bitterly divided between the two leading candidates. Allegations and counter-allegation of planned rigging by the camps of the leading candidates dominated.
Fear of violence is palpable, but the police and other security agencies have assured voters of maximum security. Indeed, every nook and cranny of the state is heavily policed.
The Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, has ordered restriction of vehicular movement in the state from 11:59 p.m yesterday to 6.00 p.m today to curb the movement of illicit arms, hard drugs, and political thugs.
The IG, in the statement signed by Force PRO and Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), Mr. Frank Mba, said the restriction order was in line with concerted efforts at ensuring public order and safety during the election holding today.
He said the measure “was informed by the need to prevent the free flow, circulation and use of illicit arms and hard drugs and checkmate the movement of political thugs and touts and other criminally-minded individuals, especially from contiguous states from hijacking and disrupting the electoral process.”
IG Adamu had, during a stakeholders meeting organised by the Independent National Electoral Commission in Benin last Monday, disclosed that no fewer than 31,000 personnel had been deployed for today’s election.
He noted that the force was aware of heightened tension and violence that had characterised political campaigns ahead of the election.
He added that the personnel deployed would ensure adequate security and protection of lives and property across the three senatorial districts, as well as the 192 wards and the more than 2,000 polling units in the state.
Adamu stressed that violators of electoral laws and rules during the election would be decisively dealt with irrespective of political affiliation.
Also yesterday, the police asked the people of Edo State to return home immediately after voting rather than wait for the counting of the ballot.
The Deputy Inspector-General of Police in charge of Research and Planning, Adeleye Oyebade, who is to coordinate election security in Edo State, said this on a television programmed in Benin.
He said, “It is better to come, do what you want to do, and go home; because some people will be kept behind bars and we will do proper investigation and diligent prosecution of offenders that we will apprehend.”
Oyebade said aides to VIPs had been withdrawn until after the poll.
He said the police would remain neutral during the exercise and vowed to arrest political thugs.
Oyebade said movement remained restricted and advised any traveler planning to pass through Edo State to take an alternative route.
The DIG urged the candidates who signed the peace accord to make sure that they abide by the terms of the agreement.
Behave Responsibly, Buhari Tells Political Parties
President Muhammadu Buhari has equally advised political parties, candidates and security agents to behave responsibly during the Edo election.
“I am passionately committed to free and fair elections, but my own commitment is not enough if other actors at ground zero refuse to abide by the rules,” the President said.
Buhari said he wants to see democratic standards in the country raised higher at every level.
“These cannot be achieved when politicians resort to do or die methods to gain power by any means or machination.”
The president added that “the do-or-die mentality to politics is a threat to free and fair elections because the actors are more focused on winning than caring about a fair outcome that reflects the will of the people.”
He advised election officials and security operatives to remain neutral, ensure free elections and to avoid actions capable of compromising the integrity of the elections.
Obaseki: My 2nd Term Ambition is Not Worth Spilling of Anyone’s Blood
Meanwhile, Obaseki has said his second term ambition was not worth spilling the blood of anyone.
A statement quoted him as speaking yesterday after a one-day prayer and fasting session for a peaceful election, organised by the Edo Christian Community for all the governorship candidates ahead of the election.
The statement titled, ‘My reelection not worth spilling of blood – Obaseki’, was issued by his Special Assistant on Media, Crusoe Osagie.
He specifically asked God to let him lose his re-election bid “if it will cost the blood of anybody.”
The governor reassured that today’s election in the state would be peaceful and violence-free.
Obaseki urged eligible voters to come out enmasse without fear of intimidation or harassment, stating that he did not see the need for any form of violence.
He said, “Ordinarily, an election is supposed to be a contest where people go to sell their ideal, and citizens in their own free will go and vote for those ideals they believe in; it shouldn’t be one where people will do anything (unwholesome) to get power.
“Election should not be one in which we shed blood because the election will always come. If you die in an election, you will not be there in the next one to vote. So, there is no need for violence.
“It’s unfortunate that where we are today we are all afraid that there will be trouble, that there will be crisis and violence but by the grace of God, we will all come out and vote and there won’t be any bloodshed.
“There is no need for any violence and if anybody decides to act in a violent manner, just walk away because our lives are very precious. I have a covenant with God; if it will cost the blood of anybody for me to get into power, he should not let me have power.”
On his part, the National President of Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, Reverend Felix Omobude, prayed that God would make peace reign before, during, and after today’s election.
PDP Raises Alarm Over Alleged Harassment of its Governors
Indications that there could be crisis during today’s election arose with the PDP raising the alarm over an alleged harassment of governors elected on its platform, who are in the state for the poll.
Addressing journalists at an emergency press conference, The National Chairman of the party, Prince Uche Secondus said while Governor Hope Uzodinma of Imo state and the deputy senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege were lodged in the Benin home of Adams Oshiomhole, PDP governors were being harassed in their hotels.
Secondus said: “Hope Uzodinma and Ovie Omo-Agege are in the home of the former chairman of the All Progressives Congress, APC. Oshiomhole. PDP governors are being harassed in Westend Hotel, Benin.
“Policemen have surrounded the hotel and their lives are in danger. We call on Inspector General of Police to ask the police to leave the place. If APC governors are in Benin, the PDP governors should be in Benin too. Our governors would remain in Benin, no one can intimidate us.
“We are bringing this to the attention of the international community. Elections must be free. Elections must be allowed to hold. You cannot allow APC governors in Edo, and bar PDP governors,” he said.
The PDP claimed Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State was prevented from leaving his hotel in Benin City.
Wike is the chairman of the PDP national campaign council for the Edo governorship election.
In a statement, Akawor Desmond, Chairman of Rivers PDP, said over 300 policemen had laid siege to the hotel where the governor is staying.
He said Abdullahi Ganduje, governor of Kano, and Hope Uzodinma, his Imo counterpart, are moving freely while Wike was prevented from going out.
Desmond said: “Governor Ganduje and Governor Hope Uzodinma of Imo State are all in Benin, Edo State carrying out their assignment for the APC without any molestation or intimidation.
“And in a breach of the pledge they made, security agencies have decided to harass and intimidate Governor Wike who has not done any wrong.
“May I on behalf of entire Rivers people warn that we shall hold the IGP responsible for anything that happens to our Governor.”
Transition Monitoring Group makes case for Mobil Court
The Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), in collaboration with the Edo State Civil Society Organisations (EDOCSO), yesterday called on the federal government to set up Electoral Malpractices Mobile Court to deal with electoral offenders.
TMG chairman, Dr. Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi made the call in Benin while briefing journalists on its observation during the electioneering campaign for the Edo state governorship election.
INEC Chairman: Our Staff Will Rise to the Occasion
The Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu yesterday said that staff of the commission would rise to the occasion of today’s election.
In a special message he signed, the INEC chairman said, “I have no doubt that our staff will rise to the occasion. We have done it several times before and we can do it again. The Commission deeply appreciates the never ending sacrifices made by our staff at all times, often beyond the call of duty, to ensure that we carry out our mandate”.
He appealed for commitment from all INEC staff, saying, “Let me appeal to all of you to remain steadfast and committed to the ideals of the Commission Nigerians and the international community expect so much from us.
“They are watching. It is important that we all remain above board in the performance of our respective duties. We must ensure that no political party or candidate is accorded any advantage over the other. We must be neutral at all times and stick strictly to our Code of Conduct and Oath of Neutrality to which we have all subscribed”, the INEC Chairman stated.
Yiaga Africa Deploys PVT to Check Credibility of Results
Yiaga Africa, through the Watching The Vote citizens movement, says it is deploying its Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT) methodology for Saturday’s election.
The group explained that the PVT is an advanced election observation methodology that employs well-established statistical principles and sophisticated information technologies in providing timely and accurate information on the conduct of accreditation, voting, and counting, and it independently verifies the official governorship results as announced by the INEC.
According to Yiaga Africa, “The PVTs are not opinion polls. Yiaga Africa citizen observers do not ask voters for whom they cast their ballot. PVTs rely solely on official results from polling units. This tested and proven election observation methodology has been deployed in over 50 countries worldwide, including Nigeria – most recently by Yiaga Africa in the November 2019 Kogi and Bayelsa governorship elections where it detected fraud and manipulation of results collation and declined to verify the official results declared by INEC”.
Situation Room Deploys 300 Observers
The Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room (Situation Room) says it has deployed 300 Observers for today’s election.
The Situation Room also said that it would be on ground in Edo State to receive reports from its partners and networks distributed across the 18 local government areas of the State.
In a statement signed Alternate Chair of the Situation Room, Esther Uzoma, the group said it had received assurances from INEC and the Nigeria Police Force “that they are fully prepared for the elections, with INEC assuring that logistics and deployment are fully under its control and the Police assuring that it will keep the security situation under check.”
A total of 2,210,534 residents have registered to vote in today’s election. According to the Independent National Electoral Commission, 1,159,325 are men, while 1,052,209 are women. Also, youths between the ages of 18 and 35 make up 50 per cent of voters.
According to the register, the South Senatorial District has the highest number of registered voters with 1,281,414, the North with 564,122, while the Central Senatorial District has the least with 364,998 voters.
The Battle Grounds
In Edo South and Edo North, the fear of a titanic battle is more because of the presence of the two major gladiators in the area.
The state governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki is from Edo South while his deputy Philip Shaibu is from Edo North.
Similarly, while the APC Candidate is from the South district, his running mate is from the North district, thus, today’s election in the two senatorial districts will be tough, leaving Edo Central axis less problematic.
Another reason for the focus on Edo South and North is that the two districts command the highest number of registered voters.
The Central District will be less acrimonious because the area has five House of assembly member working for Obaseki and the PDP with only one working for APC.